September 14, 2007

I think South Bend has a serial murderer.

Something like the fifth or sixth dead woman has turned up in South Bend under mysterious circumstances. Here's the story.

Woman found dead in South Bend park

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- A pregnant 35-year-old woman found killed in a city park had been strangled, a coroner said.

Melissa Marie Shields' body was discovered just before midnight Wednesday in Ravina Park on the city's southeast side.

Deputy coroner Charles Hurley said after an autopsy Thursday afternoon that he is unsure whether a weapon was used in the crime.

Rhonda Riley of Mishawaka, Shields' mother, said Shields was seven months pregnant with a baby boy. She said Shields had three teenage children: a son and daughter who live with Riley and another son who lives with a different relative.

They had not seen Shields recently, a distraught Riley said Thursday, because of Shields' involvement with illegal drugs and other criminal behavior.

Although Shields' latest arrest records listed Riley's Mishawaka address as hers, Riley said her daughter had been living on Indiana Avenue in South Bend. Riley said she didn't approve of the man with whom Shields was living, and that is partly why she had grown estranged from her daughter.

Riley said she had never heard any reports that the boyfriend, whose full name she did not know, had ever abused Shields.

"He might have cheated on her," Riley said, "but he never hit her, that I know of."

Riley was upset and crying at the news of her daughter's death and said Shields' children are taking it hard. They are uncertain how they are going to pay for funeral expenses, she said.

Police released few details about the case Thursday.

Although Riley said she was told that her daughter was nude when found, authorities would not confirm that.

Hurley said the victim's body had been identified initially by officers who knew her. She had a lengthy arrest record, including arrests for prostitution.

Shields has been a frequent occupant of the county jail, with 70 arrests going back to 1990.

South Bend police arrested her most recently on Aug. 16 in the 2900 block of South Michigan Street. She was charged in that case with theft, possession of cocaine, possession of paraphernalia, and two counts of auto theft.

Court records indicate a man had picked her up on Indiana Avenue and took her to his trailer in Mishawaka. At some point, he told police, he realized Shields had left, taking his car. He also reported that $5,400 was missing from his trailer.

Police arrested her about an hour later after seeing her park the car at a grocery on Michigan Street. She told them she had permission to use the car and that the Mishawaka man had given her money to buy narcotics. Police found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the car.

Shields was free on $1,000 bond at the time of her death.

Past arrests included drug offenses, prostitution, criminal trespass, driving without a license, criminal conversion, carjacking and failure to use a seat belt.

According to Indiana Department of Correction records, Shields also has served three sentences in state prison, for auto theft, receiving stolen auto parts, carrying a handgun without a license, and possession of cocaine.

Neighbors were clearly disturbed by the homicide, which happened in Ravina Park, a small park in the 900 block of East Indiana Avenue, along the bank of Bowman Creek.

"This freaks me out," said Sara Lenardson, who lives across the street from the park. She said she has lived on Indiana Avenue for about a year and has never had any serious problems.

Jimmy Scales, who has lived for 40 years along the east side of the park, said the 900 and 1000 blocks of Indiana Avenue are fairly stable, with longtime residents.

He described the occupants further west as transients who move in and out of the neighborhood with frequency. A lot of people just wander the streets all day, he said.

Ravina Park has a curfew, he said, "but people are out here at 3 in the morning. What good is a curfew if they don't enforce it?"

The small neighborhood park has only a few pieces of playground equipment, including a swingset, sliding board and monkey bars. The victim's body was found under the monkey bars.

Police went to the park late Wednesday in response to reports of a woman screaming.

Scales said screaming is not unusual in the park, "but it's play screaming," kids making noise as they have fun.

He said police have done a good job of cleaning up the southeast side, particularly in getting rid of the Dawg Life gang.

"It really worked," he said, "and I was glad to see it."
In addition to this murder, several other women have been found dead since the beginning of the year. The body of one was discovered in an alley. Another woman was found dead in a garage. Several women have been pulled from the St. Joe river. And the killer or killers have not been found. It's all pretty fishy to me. And I know it's starting to freak me out a bit. I definitely think it's a serial killer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not a serial killer...just another instance of drama and trauma in the hood.